Monday, January 30, 2006

Embarassing old movies

I mentioned the other night A Clockwork Orange[^]. I remember it as a movie with a sinister edge, some great music and quite, for the time, controversial. These days the reasons it was controversial are the standard fare of Hollywood. My god, doesn't that sentence make me sound like an old fart! On the other hand, this might give an insight into the Melbourne[^] I grew up in.

So a couple of nights ago I decided to watch it again. The opening scene still sends shivers down my back; the transition from an orange field to a deep blue field with opening credits superimposed, accompanied by a synthesised rendition of The Funeral Music for Queen Mary, followed by the close up of Alex with his glass of Moloko plus, staring malevolently at the camera.

It goes downhill from there. I remember feeling a mixture of fear and desire[^] during the scene where Alex and his friends intervene in the rape of a young devotchka by Billy Boy and his droogs. The desire was, of course, for the naked young lady struggling against the inevitable. The fear was of finding myself in anything remotely resembling that fight!

It seemed cool, then, with my friends, to talk Nadsat, the language Anthony Burgess invented for his 1961? novel. Indeed, I'll attribute some of my interest in Russian movies to Nadsat given that it's mostly based on English transliterations of Russian words with a few cockney terms thrown in. When I heard my first Russian movie I remember pricking up my ears at hearing familiar words pronounced a little differently (correctly).

Watching it the other night all I could think was how silly it all was. Evidence of concretion of the brain? I hope not! But all that talk of malenky hairs on Alex's plott, prestoopniks, devotchkas, filthy old soomkas etc no longer felt right.

To this day I can read the novel front to back without ever having to turn to the glossary; those unenglish words are engraved in my brain, so the novel must have made some impression upon me. It surely did; so much so that I wasted quite a few years writing my own version of the novel. Bad bad writing at first and not a lot better toward the end. By 1985 it had evolved into the story of a serial killer who hated women because they had pubic hair. That was the best of it; I'd be ashamed to describe earlier versions. I'm sure Sue, my first wife, remembers well what I was like at the time.

A flirtation with geekdom

would be a pretty accurate description of my last four or five days.

I got back from The Philippines on mid Wednesday and went immediately to Frys Electronics to buy the bits for a Media/Home Theatre PC. I've wanted something like a Tivo for quite a while; with the amount of travel I do and the scarcity of British Comedy on American TV it was galling to keep missing stuff.

One Pentium Dual Core Processor and motherboard later with a gig of memory, 500 gigs of SATA storage, two dual layer DVD burners (the second one for my main PC), a copy of Windows XP Media Centre Edition and the quiestest computer case I've ever failed to hear later, I have a system that can capture 100 hours of TV and play it back so that I can't tell it's not live.

Incidentally, I'd rather have bought an AMD dual core processor; AMD are the only thing that have kept Intel pricing down but strangely enough the AMD chips at Frys were more than a hundred dollars more expensive; I'm not THAT one eyed about AMD.

Life is good :-)

Of course the project wasn't without it's pitfalls. Time was against me because I'm travelling again on Wednesday, so I didn't take as much time as I should have researching such minor details as the motherboard. I thought I'd bought one that had an AGP slot and onboard RAID. Having assembled it and installed the brand new AGP video card with S Video out it didn't bloody well work. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Not even a POST failure set of beeps.

Ok, let's relax and catch up on some episodes of Becker I'd recorded on this PC instead, drink some wine, sleep, and look at it all tomorrow (Thursday). Of course the geek in me couldn't leave it at that but I did content myself with merely reading the motherboard manual. At which time it became blindingly obvious that the motherboard I'd purchased didn't have an AGP slot, it had PCI Express. Don't ask how it was that I managed to install an AGP card into it (that way embarassment lies).

So I drove back to Fry's the next morning, returned the AGP card and drove home with a PCI Express card. It was about 70 bucks cheaper so I didn't mind the drive all that much. Plugged it in and away we went. All went well until I wanted to set up the pair of 250 gig SATA drives as a mirrored RAID array. Of course the motherboard I'd bought didn't do RAID did it?

I decided to live with it. It's one thing to unplug the wrong video card, box it up and swap it. It's quite another to remove the heatsink/fan and rebox that and the processor in such a way that you don't damage either the motherboard or the (expensive) CPU. And then you have to convince the folk at Frys that you're not pulling a swifty on em! So I set it up as 250 gigs system disk and 250 gigs video storage. *shrug* My wife and I had been considering adding a fileserver to our system anyway so the new machine is christened BigBoy!

So at the end of the day, did my thousand dollar PC measure up? Of course it does. This is one fast PC! I bought the cheapest Pentium D available (the 820 model at 2.8 GHz) but it's still way way faster than my main machine. Indeed, were it not for the fact that my main machine doesn't support SATA I'd have been tempted to swap em and use the new motherboard/CPU as my main machine. If SETI classic were still going that new machine would probably double my numbers!

The Antec Sonata II case is quiet! So quiet that I have to look at the power on LED to know it's powered up. Quietest case I've ever heard. So quiet that I'm tempted to buy one for my main machine and one for my wifes machine. You can't overrate the value of quiet! :-)

It was a lot more expensive than the Tivo would have been but hopefully it'll be more expandable. There are also no monthly fees (but at $12.95 a month current billing for Tivo the new system's going to have to last many years before Tivo becomes more expensive).

XP Media Centre Edition works a treat. Nice simple TV centric interface if you run the Media Centre part. If you don't you get the standard XP desktop which absolutely sucks on a TV set! What do you expect when you're comparing 2000's technology with technology from 1949!!

That wasn't the only PC related adventure I had this week (I've installed XP on four different PC's) but I'll relate the rest tomorrow night.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The blind guy

There's a nun having a bath when there comes a knock on the door.

'Who's there?' she calls out.

'It's the blind guy' responds a gruff masculine voice.

The nun thinks for a moment then decides that, as he's blind, it can't do any harm to let him in.

As he opens the door he glances at her and says,

'Ok lady, where do you want the blinds?'

*boom boom*

Gormenghast and a bottle of scotch

It's Sunday afternoon here in The Philippines and I have time to kill until late Tuesday night when I leave on the trek to Manila and thence home. Well not quite true, I do have to appear at the customers site Monday and Tuesday but that's work; this is pleasure :-)

What more natural than to watch, again, Gormenghast[^], the BBC realisation of the novels, made in 2000. As I write I'm halfway through the series (I ripped the DVD's to the laptop) and about a third of the way through a bottle of Ballantines Scotch (duty free from Tokyo).

A wonderful experience. The production manages to convey the spirit of the novels; no mean feat. The scene where Steerpike escapes from the prison cell Flay left him in, only to find himself suspended hundreds of feet above the christening of Lord Groan still gives me that uncomfortable crawling of the skin and visceral fear I associate with heights with which I'm uncomfortable.

The enmity between Flay and Swelter comes across wonderfully and I have to say that the choice of Richard Griffiths as Swelter was inspired. It took me quite a while to place him; of course, it was Pie in the Sky[^].

I wrote, some time ago[^], about how, 30 years after first hearing it, the climax of Wagner's Liebestod still sends a chill down my spine. It's the same with this production of Gormenghast. That scene halfway through the first episode, where Steerpike and Lady Fuschia meet for the first time. The music is absolutely perfect. I've been known to watch that part of the DVD multiple times just to hear the music!

In fact, for me, half the appeal of the TV adaptation is the music. I'm a sucker for lush romantic music; witness my enthusiasm for the music of Mahler, Bruckner and Scriabin. The visuals of the musicians are wonderful; we see strange and unfamiliar musical instruments. Alpenhorns, odd looking harps, string instruments that look like a Daliesque violin, almost but not quite right.

I really enjoyed the third episode of the series, the one with the school masters. At first glance it doesn't seem to fit at all into the story we've seen so far (and I had the same feeling with the novel itself) but it's inspired insanity works for me.

I can't imagine what it must be like for someone to watch this production who hasn't already read the novels. Indeed, I almost wish I hadn't read them before seeing it; in much the same way that I envy someone who's never before heard, say, Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy[^] and has the wonder of that work ahead of them.

The legend of the Surami Fortress

This is another story that I wish was about Robin so it'd fit into the 'you bastard' series, but, again, it isn't.

If you've been following my blog at all you'll know that I like Russian films. Well not just Russian films, Eastern European films in general. I don't know why, I just enjoy them. That whole subtitle thing doesn't bother me; I just know I'm seeing something from outside of my culture. Perhaps it helps that they're not Hollywood.

So in 1987 the Valhalla Cinema added a Georgian[^] movie to their calendar. Just to be sure we're on the same page; this was Georgia, former Soviet Union state, not the US state north of Florida.

The movie is apparently based on a Georgian legend. I don't remember much about the movie since I only saw it the once, back in early 1988. IMDB lists the running time as 88 minutes but it sure felt longer than that! It managed to capture my interest for at least the first half hour, mainly on the basis that it was in an unfamiliar language. But it did drag and at the end I was relieved to leave the theatre.

A bit of a bummer but if you don't make the attempt you'll never find the gems. I find enough gems that I keep making the attempt.

In 1987, at much the same time as the Valhalla Cinema advertised this movie a young guy by the name of Adam joined the team at Hewlett Packard Australia. Nice kid and we became friends. I was rather less loath in those days than I am now to mix friends and work so it was natural that he was invited to one or two parties at my place. He fitted in better than I did! I was 33 and they were all late 19's going on 20. Don't go there! :-)

So armed with those two pieces of information what do you think happened next? I've seen a very boring movie and a young guy has joined the group. I hope it's as obvious to you as it was to me.

I took Adam to one side and told him he just HAD to see this movie. 'You won't believe the sex scene at the end.' I said. 'It may seem a trifle slow along the way but it's worth it!'.

Poor bastard believed me.

A few nights later a knock came at my door. I opened it and there stood Adam, dripping wet from autumnal rain. He took one look at me and said...

'You bastard!'

Two ounces of orange juice

can, if applied properly, make the most amazing mess.

My flight from Tokyo back to Los Angeles seemed to be passing well. It's about 10 hours but to a veteran of the LA to Singapore run that's a doddle. Nonetheless, given that it's in 747 economy seating one does whatever one can to sleep. The extra half bottle of wine I managed to pocket when the flight attendant wasn't watching did the trick and I slept from the end of dinner until the start of breakfast. I fancy it was probably about 6 hours, no mean feat.

Awakened I was asked my preference for brekky. Omelet or Japanese style fried noodles. Since it's impossible to serve an edible omelet if it was prepared three months ago and frozen against the day I chose the noodles. They weren't a lot better. Then the standard litany of questions; juice? Coffee? I chose both and was handed the orange juice first. Since that was my first liquid since the wine some hours earlier I was thirsty and drank most of it. Then she handed me the coffee and, whilst putting it down I managed to upset the orange juice.

Can you imagine what it's like to put your shoes back on and realise there's orange juice in there? The meal pack contains a single paper napkin. Given the millions of airline passengers each year I quite understand the economics of providing just the one per passenger but it was nonetheless galling to try and soak up the entire mess with one small napkin.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Doctor, it hurts when I do this!

to which my answer is always, even though I'm not a doctor, 'Well, don't do that!'.

An old gag. I don't remember the name of the film anymore but I remember seeing an old British movie in the 70's where some patient was asking for a doctors certificate. 'Doctor', he said, 'after the accident I can only raise my arm this high'. 'Oh', says the doctor, 'how high could you raise it before the accident?'. 'This high' says the patient, raising his arm much higher. You saw that coming but I remember laughing until it hurt at the gag.

That's become one of the family gags with my US family. Andrew in particular seems to relish it. It all came about because of Corey, a kid who lived across the way from us. Nice kid. One day he came over with a suction cup. A bit of spit and he sticks it on his chest, where, naturally enough, it sticks. Then he did something or other to make it pop and at the moment it popped 'Ow!'. Did it again. 'Ow!'. And again. After maybe a dozen ows he had quite the red mark on his chest. Nothing daunted he moved the suction cup to the other side of his chest and repeated the performance. I could barely restrain my laughter.

All of which reminds me of another story. I wish I could say this was about Robin because it would fit very neatly into the 'you bastard' series. Alas it isn't and it doesn't.

One of my friends back in 1968 was Mark. Nice kid but not the brightest penny in the purse. I've learned in the 38 years since that one doesn't take advantage of such folk but back in 1968 that lesson was still on my 'to learn' list.

So one day I taught him a trick. You take your fist and hit, very very hard, just below the elbow. Maybe an inch or so below, having taken the precaution of laying your arm on the table. If you do it just right the muscle bulges for a moment and then subsides. Pure bulldust but he believed. So he tried it. 'Did you see it?' he asked. I had to admit I hadn't. He tried again. 'Did you see it?'. 'Nope!'.

So he tried and tried, for what seems like, now, half an hour, though I'm sure he gave up after five minutes or so. What I do remember is that when we left the classroom that day I was laughing myself sick and his arm was swollen up and red and sore.

Doctor, it hurts when I do this! Well don't do that!!!

Freude Schoene

Freude Schoene Gotterfunken...

well you probably know the rest. The words to Beethovens ninth symphony. Actually that Gotterfunken bothers me; I'm almost sure it's not the right word but I can't for the life of me remember what the correct word is. Whatever it is it sounds similar. You have to forgive me if I've got it wrong; it's more than 30 years since I first heard the symphony and probably at least 15 years since I last heard it. There's such a wealth of good music out there, Philip Glass, John Adams, Terry Riley, Alexander Scriabin, Karol Szymanowski, Dmitri Shostakovich, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Charles Ives, Frederick Delius, Michael Nyman... you get the idea.

After a drinking session here in The Philippines with Steve and Frank it became time to go to bed. You know how it works. One reaches a pleasant level of intoxication and the conversation roams free; tonight I was defending the idea of the states of the US issuing drivers licences for illegal immigrants. I almost convinced Steve, our resident republican; but only almost. He could admit that I had a couple of good points but couldn't quite bring himself to agree.

Eventually they melted away to their rooms. The younguns of today just can't hack it with we older drinkers! So I was left alone to savour that last glass of wine, read a little Dickens and watch Australian TV on ABC Asia Pacific. Tonight's news bulletins did seem a little Melbourne centric; news of bushfires in Gippsland; the Australian Open tennis, a short account of an archeological dig at some property in Collins Street and so on. It was all good even if it did make me feel a trifle more than usually nostalgic for my home town.

My bill settled for the nonce I returned to my room, past the piano bar where someone was playing the Ode to Joy from Beethovens Ninth. By the fourth note I had the old familiar German words playing in my head...

Freude Schoene Gotterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
wir betreten Feuer trunken,
Himmlische dein Heiligtun.

and so on... I'm sure the native German speakers reading this are laughing at me and that's ok. It has been quite a few years since I last heard it. A gap I must correct in a few days when I go home.

A Clockwork Orange hit the Melbourne Movie circuit in late 1972, just after I turned 18 and was deemed old enough to attend R rated movies. I was carded to be sure I was eligible to go watch. By this time I was already a Beethoven fan and quite familiar with the Ninth. For another of my friends (and a workmate), Warren, this was his introduction. You understand that by late 1972 I'd already tried the evangelism thing and found it wanting; so I listened to Deep Purple and Pink Floyd with my friends and later went home and listened to Beethoven and Mahler at my leisure.

Warren was blown away by the Ninth. As well he should have been.

A few days later at work Warren was expatiating at length on how great the music was. His exact words, adjusted for Wdevs were, 'it's f******* great'. Our boss, Dennis, overheard and I remember seeing his face; a mixture of amusement and shock. He, Dennis, would have been about the age then that I am now.

I understand.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

My grandfathers toenails

were gnarly, quite yellow and totally repulsive to a kid.

You understand that I don't imagine my grandfathers toenails were particularly unique. Yep, they were his; of progenitor genetic material; but as samples of the toenails of men in their 60's they were hardly unique.

You can imagine then my horror at noticing tonight that my toenails have become gnarly and somewhat yellow. I can't imagine where the yellow comes from. That yellowing of my right forefinger and middle finger is quite understandable; the result of 43 years of smoking. But whence the yellow of a toenail that has never been closer than 5 feet and 2 inches to a ciggy? I'm allowing 7 inches as the distance between my mouth and the top of my head. That'd be pretty close.

I trim the buggers; I shower daily; I scrub my feet and yet the toenails are yellowing. Methinks this must be one of those ageing things somewhat akin to wrinkles. How strange then, that there are no ads or spam advising one on how to reverse the yellowing of toenails!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


I apologise for the gap in posting; let me plead pressure of work. Being honest however I have to admit that it's not just pressure of work, sometimes one just can't think of something worthwhile writing about. That or I can think of something to write about and realise I've beaten that horse to death. Hence the lack of new posts about the drive from Manila to Baguio!

I find it interesting that I feel the pressure. When I look at my page view stats I reckon I have maybe a dozen regular readers. In the world of the syndicated journalist that would be beneath contempt but I'm not a syndicated journalist. In my world my dozen regular readers are my friends even if I've only ever met two of you (you know who you are).

I reckon I've finally learned how to do international travel. I've done it 30 or 40 times (I've lost count) and up until now I've always found economy difficult. Just how does one sleep in a narrow seat where ones knees bump against the seat in front of one? Yep, you can kinda slide your feet under the seat in front and lean the seat back about 7 degrees but even so it's an unnatural position to be in. I've usually arrived somewhat strung out and ready for sleep. Not always a wise idea if it's early afternoon local time but your body is insisting that it's midnight!

Domestic flights are easier; usually undertaken during the time one would normally be awake anyway and of relatively short duration. Even those can be a pain though; I well remember the flight I took from Melbourne to Perth in 1993. I was stuck in the middle seat first row. The fat bastard on my left was eating peppermints the entire 4 hours of the flight and the fatter bastard on my right farted the entire trip. Indeed, if they could have found a way to harness fart power I reckon that fat bastard might have been able, single arsedly, to have averted the entire Ansett Airlines bankruptcy. It was quite the olfactory experience!

So to my flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo on Sunday last. You'll remember that I had my doubts about it, not just from the fact that it was on an airline that isn't a member of the Star Alliance. Hey, if I have to fly I might as well get frequent flyer points so I joined Northwest Airlines World Perks.

No, my major reservation was the discomfort of 747 style economy. That and the fact that we'd be chasing the sun. When I did LA to Seoul a year ago my major recollection is of how long the flight seemed. We left LA in daylight and arrived in Seoul 13 hours later in daylight and never saw the night. Would have felt normal except that we left LA about 4 in the afternoon so the day felt like it was 38 hours long.

Well this time I managed to sleep most of the flight. It might have helped that I spent a very pleasant Saturday night drinking red wine and went to bed about 1:30 AM Sunday. Awake at 5:30 AM and not, perhaps, completely recovered from a night of drinking. Heck, I'm flying, what need of perfect wits? As long as you can smile pleasantly at the TSA (Transport Security Administration) person and put up with their idiotic requirements...

Thus onto the first flight, America West to LA. At LA I took the opportunity to take a piece of Key Lime pie and a hot choccy at Starbucks before surrendering my ability to light up a smoke. Of course the departure was delayed an hour! Fortunately I was travelling with Steve, who doesn't smoke now but who used to and therefore understands. This is significant because it meant I didn't have to carry my laptop with me; I could leave it with him. You wouldn't believe how much of a difference that makes! (Back to TSA insanity).

Then onto the flight to Tokyo. It's about this time that we finally get to the point of this post. Because I managed to sleep, fitfully, through about three quarters of the flight! This, for me, is a breakthrough. It might have been a one off had it just been that flight but I managed to sleep for more than three quarters of the flight from Tokyo to Manila. Indeed, I was sleeping when we touched down at Manila and the poor bastard sitting next to me had to awaken me so he could deplane!

Let's see if I can manage the same trick on the flight back to the US. I suspect, given that I'll be starting the flight at about the twenty six hour point of awakeness, that it'll be a doddle to sleep all the way back to greencard hell and secondary inspection!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Back and forth

I'm sad to relate that Buttons[^] passed away today. Not a sudden demise nor yet a long slow decline; she came down with the symptoms of FIP[^] a little over a week ago and a prompt series of visits to the vet was unable to help her.

A few days of trying to coax her into eating or drinking; one or two sessions trying to force an unwilling and obviously distressed cat to take her medicine; achieved by holding her down and forcing the blunt end of a needleless syringe between her teeth.

When we came home tonight from dining out (at Boston Market, hardly the most upmarket of eateries) and as I walked through the door one glance was sufficient; she was stretched out on the hearth and clearly no longer of this world. My wife glanced at me and we both tried to hurry Andrew past but we didn't manage that feat. He took it better than I expected though; I'd been anticipating wailing and gnashing of teeth. Instead he said 'oh' and went on upstairs. And then my wife asked me what we should do.

It was at this moment that I had one of those thoughts, you know the ones, the ones you're not supposed to have. You see, the way we used to dispose of a dead cat when I was a kid was to dump the poor bugger in a rubbish bin and forget it. The pragmatic approach. We had a garden and we could have picked out a spot for the cat but it never seemed to occur to my folks to do that and so it never occurred to me or my sisters. And that, I'm ashamed to say, is the first thing that ran through my head.

In 1965 when I lived in Seddon a dead cat appeared in the laneway at the back of the house. To be quite clear about the meaning of that word let me explain that in Seddon a lane is a very narrow thoroughfare that runs between rows of houses and they were originally intended for use by the night cart before sewers were installed at the end of the 19th century. The British meaning of the word could hardly be farther from the truth; we're not talking country lanes lined with shady elms here; we're talking back fences. By 1965 the two major uses of backlanes were for small boys such as myself and my friends for smoking away from the sight of adults and as a way to get ones car into the backyard.

So a dead cat appeared and, as my stepfather was one of the few who undertook the difficult maneuvre of parking in the back yard via the laneway aforesaid, I was directed to pick up this cat and dump it at the other end of the lane. Which I did, reluctantly.

The next night the cat was back at our end of the lane. And once again I had to move it to the other end. It's probably an unintentional exaggeration to say that this went on for a week but it sure feels like it did. I have vivid memories of holding that poor dead cat at arms length, on arms as stiff as the cat, as I carried it to the far end of the lane. I even, in a desperate attempt to hide it, covered the cat with a length of old carpet, to no avail. Like a boomerang that cat returned.

I was the one who caved in; when it had returned yet again I took it back to the end of the lane as ordered and sneaked back just after dark to reclaim it and sneak it into our rubbish bin, covered with old newspaper so Mum wouldn't notice. It seemed, at the time, the only way to end the nightmare.

What did we do tonight? We took the cat to the vet one last time to pay for disposal. It made the rest of the family feel better though I suspect the eventual solution is similar to the one my parents chose.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The good and the bad

Actually there is no bad; it's all good!

I'm off to The Philippines again this coming Sunday. You may remember this post[^] a trip or two to The Philippines ago. This next trip involves more of the same.

My itinerary is still up in the air as I write. I'd rather take the 18 hour flight from Los Angeles to Singapore but it seems I might not be able to get that flight. The alternative is a 12 hour flight Los Angeles to Tokyo. Do I have rocks in my head for preferring the longer flight? Nope. The shorter flight is on Northwest Airlines and I don't have frequent flyers with them. It's also 747 Economy. The Singapore flight is Executive Economy which is so much better than NWA 747 Economy as to make the extra 6 hours onboard well worth it. On the other hand, the prospect of a night in Tokyo is tempting.

I'll be gone for two and a half weeks all going well but fear not; I think I'll have enough internet access to do a reasonably normal posting frequency. Actually, if past performance is anything to go by the frequency should rise; it hasn't escaped my attention any more than it's escaped yours that I post much more when I'm travelling than when I'm not. Chalk that up to humdrum suburban living when I'm at home.

And of course, I get that wonderful drive from Manila to Baguio[^]. I think I've got them a bit worried at the office when I tell them that for me that's the highlight of the trip. *shrug*

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A work of art

My first full time job was as a first year Radio Trades apprentice, way back in 1970, I joined them as an eager 15 year old, anxious to show off my diagnostic skills. By the time I got that job I'd already, after all, repaired a couple of dozen radios dating from the 1940's and I knew quite a bit of the theory behind TV.

You can imagine my disappointment when my duties seemed focussed solely on the installation of car radios. A nasty job at times. It's been at least 25 years since I last looked under the dashboard of a car so I have no idea if they still use fibreglass insulation up there but back in 1970 they surely did. Lying head down under a dashboard worming a cable through the maze and dislodging loose bits of fibreglass can lead to very painful ocular effects.

Sometime that year we ran out of work for a few days and, as the apprentice, I found myself assigned to other duties in the despatch department. That involved packing spare parts orders for despatch to country radio repair shops. Boring work for the most part but we found a way to liven it up.

One order consisted of a rectangular box plus a cylindrical tube (it contained a ferrite antenna). They were pretty much the same length and it occurred to us that the best way to ensure they arrived together was to tape the cylinder to the top of the box and wrap the whole in brown paper. When we'd done that I suddenly realised that what we had looked like a little house. It didn't take long to draw some windows, a door, some flowers around the door and a little chimney. And so we despatched it to its destination.

I've often wondered what that country repairman thought when his package arrived!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

It's not a bad way to spend winter

living here in Phoenix. I'll grant you that hitting 80°F (27°C) as we did today is a trifle unusual for this time of the year (yeah, like I'd know after a mere three years here :) ) but even at it's coldest it ain't a bad way to get through winter. If the temperatures quoted on the Melbourne Herald Sun[^] website were accurate that means that we were warmer here in winter than they were in summer!

To be fair, three weeks ago temperatures were dropping to just below freezing.

I've never lived where it gets truly cold and I like it that way. Snow's great if you have to drive for 3 hours to get to it. But I certainly don't want to have to learn to drive in it! It doesn't bother me all that much that we get 'snowbirds' this time of the year so long as they stay off the freeway when I'm driving to work.

Yep, after all my ranting about how I don't drive on Arizona freeways I've finally had to cave in; the office moved at the end of November and it's an even longer drive. Unfortunately for me, the most obvious non-freeway route takes me down Priest Drive at Guadalupe - a land of four way stop signs, 25 mile per hour speed limits, signs on lamp posts warning of penalties for photographing religious ceremonies and three schools! If you haven't tried to drive past a US school during school time it's an experience to be avoided. Here (I can't speak for the rest of the country) the speed limit is 15 MPH and an easy source of revenue. Many's the motorcycle cop I've seen poised ready to swoop on the unwary motorist.

All of that said though, it's STILL unnatural for January to be the cold time of the year.

Sharpening a pencil

About 1975 Robin bought himself a rather expensive video tape recorder. This was before the days of Beta and VHS; it was reel to reel, bulky, black and white and, frankly, crap. But he was very proud of it because he was the only one of our gang who owned his own VCR - the rest of us had to make do with government funded communal property at the video centre.

Heino's been on my back for a while now to write about Turtle Video and I really do want to but it's not easy to start without driving away those few loyal readers I have. So I'm going to ease into the subject over the next couple of months. It was a big part of both our lives in the second half of the 1970's so consider this fair warning! :)

Anyway, Robin was magnanimous in the extreme by lugging this bulky and not very good video recorder around. We had Sony Portapaks that were just as good, half the weight and a quarter the size but we were happy to have yet another VCR at our disposal. Well, we did for a while. But suddenly the recorder started losing resolution at an alarming rate and it was hard on our tapes. Much scratching of heads without any solution coming to hand.

Until one night, over a bottle of Brandavino (a vile alcoholic drink that cost 2 bucks a bottle and was worth a quarter of that) the truth came out. Dave was sharpening his pencils by holding them against the video head as it span.

What a bastard!

Monday, January 02, 2006

It's amazing

the difference half a gig of memory can make. You'll remember that I wrote[^] a while ago about the memory requirements of Visual Studio 2005. This weekend, having some extra cash in hand, including the $390 I need to make my US citizenship application, I decided it was time to upgrade to a gig of memory.

That was a saga in itself. I might have some extra cash but that doesn't mean I want to splash it around. So I did the usual internet searches for who might have the best prices. Surprisingly that honour went to Frys Electronics. We have two outlets here in Phoenix. One is near the office way down south of Scottsdale, the other is a fair distance to the west. Being that it was a weekend and I certainly had no desire to go anywhere near the office I chose to go to the one on Thunderbird near 35th Avenue. I should have known better. Not only is parking there a bastard this time of the year but they didn't have what I wanted in stock. The next best price they had was way more than I was prepared to spend. So off to Best Buy. I had no expectation that they'd have a competitive price and so it proved; about $260 for a gig of memory.

Cutting a long story short, the best price I could find for a gig of PC2100 memory (my motherboard doesn't need and can't use anything faster) was $126 at OfficeMax. Uh huh; the local office supply shop about 2 miles away.

Just think about that for a moment you younguns. $126 for a gig of memory. Time was (said the old fart who read about it somewhere) that IBM used to be able to charge $10,000 a month to rent 4K of memory. And people would pay it! Indeed, my first computer (1977) had 256 bytes of memory that cost me about $40. Of course, back in those days we used to work 25 hours a day down the coal mines and walk 8 hours each way to and from work uphill in both directions!!!

Anyway, in a gig of memory Visual Studio 2005 is a pleasure to use. Snappy and responsive and I haven't run into any of the bugs I see reported here or at CodeProject. I have, however, run across one of my own. I'm working on an ATL COM project where the original project was created in VS2005. Every so often it gets to the point where it won't let me add a new ATL object using the wizards, reporting that one can only add such to projects enabled for MFC or ATL At this point if I reboot, reopen the project and try the same steps it works.

*shrug* it's still a helluva lot better than it was a decade ago.